Paul Evans – Constructing Multilateralism in an Anti-Region

In the recently released, “Cross Currents: Regionalism and Nationalism in Northeast Asia,” edited by Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel Sneider (see full citation below) Professor Paul Evans, the University of British Columbia and currently the co-CEO and Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada, has written an innovative chapter on the prospects for the 6-Party (6PT) talks evolving into a new permanent regional security arrangement for the still tense Northeast Asia region.

Overall Evans argues that while huge obstacles remain in turning this putative organization from a crisis specifc setting for resolving the North Korean nuclear proliferation question, conditions are positive for the creation of deeper copperation in Northeast Asia among the major powers. Notwithstanding all the caveats some ehanced possibilty for a regional security arrangement is a key to regional stability. A successful regional organization likely will include all the major pwers of the region – China, Russia, the United States and Japan – and then adding the two Koreas, Mongolia and possibly even Taiwan.

Evans describes a history of unsuccesful efforts to build a regional security organization. As he suggests this is an ‘anti-region’ because of the wide divergence of characteristics of the regional powers. Nevertheless, the 6PT is the latest and most ambitious effort to build, as he says, “an inclusive multilateral forum.” Evans suggests that the relatively positive conclusion he draws is built partly on a current assessment of relations among and between the regional powers including – China-Japan, China-US and the two Koreas. For Evans the prospect of creating such a framework is dependent on 3 critical factors: fear, opportunity and leadership. The first two are evident but the third is more problematic.

The Bush Administration as is generally known was, and probably still is, adverse to large multilateral institutions. But it was and is it clear that this Administration is not adverse to what I would call – “small multilateralism” – that is a limited focused governance organizations. In the context of the North Korean nuclear proliferation crisis, the Bush Administration has in fact insisted on a multilateral approach eschewing calls for bilateral North Korea-US discussions.

The other evident leadership change is China. The growing sophistication and multilateral diplomatic behavior of China in the region, but beyond the region as well, has led China to the point that it may well champion, according to Evans, a Northeast Asia Free Trade Agreement. The 6PT is yet another step to China’s growing regional governance leadership. Indeed the transformation of 6PT from a single issue security forum could see a “small multilateral” organization that might well tackle not just Korea’s nuclear proliferation but Korean unification, BMD, and even the reduction of tensions across the Taiwan Straits. Though such an outcome would be a material advance in regional governanace adding significantly to international regional stability the current Chinese leadership has not enunciated a policy of support for such an organizational transformation of the 6-Party talks. It remains unclear whether the current Chinese leadership believes that such a multilateral security forum with the United States included in particular is the best setting for resolving these regional security problems.

Then, how do we get from here to there?  It as this point the path seems to wander.  Evans suggests that the path to a firm Northeast Aisan security arrangement may well lead through confidence building initiatives erected on expanded ASEAN instruments such as an enlarged Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, or, as he describes it, some ASEAN style discussion and leadershiip forum including one where nontraditional security issues such as: transnational crime, piracy, illegal immigration or disaster relief, could be the on the agenda.  In the end he concludes, somewhat ironically as he recognizes, that the path to Northeast multilateralism is likely through non-Northeast Asian paths including ASEAN and the United States.

While the ending veers of slightly from the earlier trajectory, this chapter serves to encourage  thinking on the creation of this crucial regional  governanace organization.  It also raises implictly the changing nature of regionalism here in Northeast Asia and more generally across global regions.  I’ll come back to this critical definition shortly. For in the BRICSAM there is at least one identified regional organization.  And for the BRICSAM countries regional governanace is a key aspect of possible global governance coordination.

Oh yes, and the full citiation of the volume is: Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel C. Sneider, eds.,  Corss Currents: Regionalism and Nationalism in Northeast Asia, (The Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center: Stanford, CA, 2007) The book can be ordered through Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.